MALDEN — With the merger of the Greater Boston League and the Northeastern Conference, the landscape of high school soccer in the area has changed.
Integrating Malden, Everett, Medford and Somerville into the NEC has meant more competitive contests for teams like Lynn Classical, and that was certainly the case Tuesday afternoon at Pine Banks Park.
In an evenly-matched contest, one breakaway goal meant the difference as the Golden Tornados topped the Rams, 1-0.
Midway through the second half, Batoul Chouiki broke away from the Classical defense, bringing the ball to the outside. Classical keeper Carly Mendonca came out to cut down the angle, but Chouiki got a shot off just in time, providing all of the offense Malden would need to improve to 5-3-1 on the season.
It felt like it was just a matter of time until Chouiki broke through. The forward pulled Mendonca out of the net on two other occasions in the second half; the first time, the keeper smothered the ball before Chouiki could get a shot off. The second time looked like it would be trouble for Classical; Chouiki beat Mendonca to the ball, but Chloe Kebreau was there to make a huge save, kicking the ball across the mouth of the goal just before it crossed the line.
But Chouiki kept at it, and with her twin sister Nour Chouiki also working to create scoring opportunities up front, the Golden Tornados kept the strong Classical (4-4) defense busy.
“Her and her twin sister, they’re just dynamic out there, they change the game instantly,” Malden coach Rick Caceda said. “We just hope a shot goes in, they get plenty of chances. They’re both tremendous.”
Prior to the score, it was a back-and-forth game that saw both teams create chances, but both goalies (Mendonca for Classical, Audree Carleton for Malden) were solid and the defenses stifled any chance either side had.
The Rams and Golden Tornados have faced similar challenges throughout the year, as both squads field strong defenses and speedy offenses, but have trouble converting opportunities to goals.
“In the games we’ve won, we came out with, like, 1-0 wins, but we could have put in more goals,” Caceda said. “We generate a lot of opportunities. We have a lot of speed up top and we just try to use it.”
“That’s why it came down to one big break,” said Classical coach Mark Ierardi. “But overall, I’m happy. You want to win them all, but the effort is there and we’re improving game to game, we just have to find a way to put the ball in the net a little more often, because we’re right there defensively.”
The Rams furiously tried to score the equalizer in the final few minutes, but couldn’t get off a clean shot.
Ierardi was satisfied with the effort from his Rams, and highlighted the play of Kebreau and Sydney Spiess defensively.
“I loved their effort today. They worked like crazy, and Malden got one break, and they capitalized,” Ierardi said. “The game could have gone either way, they worked their tails off. We don’t like leaving here with a loss, but I like our defense and liked how hard we worked today, so I’m encouraged.”
The Golden Tornados are faring well in their first season in the NEC, and Caceda says that the transition to the team’s new conference has been a positive one.
“It’s a lot different than what we’re used to but it’s good,” he said. “It’s pretty competitive and pretty even, and the games are well-matched, well-played like this one, they’re tough battles. I love playing in this conference, I do.”
The Rams look to get back on track Friday at Winthrop, while Malden takes on English on Thursday.